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Standing-room only crowd gathers Wednesday for hearing on proposed campground in Pavilion

By Joanne Beck
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A standing-room-only crowd pitted supporters against the opposition Wednesday evening during a proposed campground hearing at Pavilion Town Hall.

Applicant Jesse Coots has been working with the town’s Planning Board to address a litany of requirements in order for Lokee-Hikee Campgrounds to be environmentally sound and neighbor-friendly. The Pavilion project to be situated on a 110-acre parcel on Perry Road still raises many concerns, speaker and Pavilion resident Mike Fisher said. 

He directly addressed the group of about 50 attendees first.

“Not one of you folks lives near this. Their home is not right next to this thing. They're not going to be affected by the noise, the light, sound, the smell, the traffic, and litter, with a bunch of transient people coming in and out of this place,” Fisher said. “We're going to have diminished property value. I think the board's number one job is to protect the neighborhood. This has been going on since 2020. And every time the plan changes, every single time. That speaks volumes.”

Planning Board Chairman Bill Fuest said that the process includes answering questions and meeting requirements. Engineers, town, county, and state entities have done their “due diligence” to thoroughly vet the project to ensure it complies with zoning and codes, he said. 

During her presentation on the project, Sara Gilbert, president of Pinewoods Engineering, laid out the scope of the project and offered assurance that setbacks and other utilities would align with local and state codes. A septic system, public electric and gas, two recently drilled wells, and stormwater management are in the plan, as well as wetland consultants to work with the Department of Environmental Conservation to have no negative impact on the property’s wetlands, Gilbert said. 

Only 24 percent of the total acreage is being mapped out for development, she said, and the application includes an eventual plot for 145 campsites. 

“It's going to be located on a beautiful piece of land. The applicants would love to have it landscaped with facilities that fit well within the community. It will include a registration building that will have a camp store and food facilities, a pool, pavilion, picnic areas, public restrooms, all-black sky-compliant lighting, and a recreational plan,” she said. “We've also been required to hire an archaeologist and investigate the site to make sure we're not having any negative impacts on historic resources and that also has been cleared by an appropriate state department. We've had a geotechnical engineer on-site, reviewing the soils with us making sure that they're adequate for a septic system, and making sure there aren't any downstream impacts. We've had a landscape architect on the team helping us design plantings and buffering. We have licensed land surveyors, multiple engineers, architects, and development consultant firms who are all part of the team that has helped us get to this point.”

And as for zoning, Gilbert said the project has been designed to “completely 100 percent comply” with town zoning codes.

Fisher was one of a half-dozen people who weren’t on board with Gilbert’s assurances. Carrie Page, who moved to Pavilion a year and a half ago, had three main reasons for opposing the campgrounds. 

“First and foremost is privacy and safety. When I think about safety, pulling out of my driveway, I'm just over the Knoll. It's quick, go. I gotta pull out and stay on the wrong side of the road before I can go over. So adding more traffic to Perry Road, based on where I live … that's a danger zone that you have,” Page said. “So I am concerned from a traffic standpoint. The well water is a concern, I have a pond in my front yard. You wouldn't think that I would run out of water, but I do.”

Although speaker Guy Laesser ended by asking Planning Board members who to call when he runs out of water, he did not lay out any specific reasons for why he was opposed to the project. He does not want a “city in the middle of the country,” and appeared to be angry that Coots has invested money into this venture.

“The town board has allowed Jesse and his family into this project to invest who knows how much money. It plays into Jesse’s favor to invest all that money into it,” Laesser said. “It’s going to affect our life and the way we live.”

Ray Butler, who said he’s against the plan, believes the project “does not meet the standards” of zoning and proper construction guidelines. 

“The project is not harmonious with the community,” he said. 

Setbacks of 140 to 150 feet are three times the required amount, Gilbert said. Camping spaces meet code requirements of being a minimum of 100 feet from any property lines, she said. 

There were also plenty of people that spoke up for the project. Citing a family-friendly venue, increased tax base, potential revenue from the additional shoppers in the area, increased job opportunities, outdoor recreational offerings of a pool and a pond, five or six miles of hiking trails, a disc golf course, and the fun of camping, Lokee-Hikee seemed like a great idea, they said.

“The more campgrounds we have, the better,” Alan Buchanan said. “We need to get our kids off video games. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Timothy Bartholomew spoke as a businessman. Traveling a lot for work has meant being able to compare Pavilion to other towns, he said. The increased business and revenue to come from the campground should seriously be considered, he said. 

“I see towns dying all over the place. The state’s picking from the county, the county’s picking from the town. Where’s the money coming from,” he said. “As a business owner, hopefully, everybody understands what this could mean.”

Brook Coniber knows Jesse and his wife Jolene Coots very well, she said. She spoke to their character and how this project could put Pavilion in the much-needed spotlight.

“People don’t know where we are,” she said. “They would never plan to bring anything to the community that would cause harm.” 

The applicants have been working with the town and completing an environmental review, site plan special use permit review, and building permit, Gilbert said. MRB Group, led by Project Manager Jonathan Hinman, has been representing the town of Pavilion.

“So we have, over the course of many months, been working with the board. We've been taking feedback from the board and from some of the neighbors that have spoken at those meetings. We've changed the buffering type planting to try to accommodate what's been requested to the greatest extent that we can,” Gilbert said. “And I would just like to close with saying the owners would really like to make this facility just a jewel of the community and a business that many generations of their family and the community family can really be proud to be associated with. We hope you'll agree that this project is good for the community and we hope you'll express your support to the board.”

There were 22 people signed up to speak, and because some of them may not have been able to voice all of their comments, Fuest motioned to officially continue the hearing and allow emailed comments to be sent in. The board agreed to keep the hearing open until the next board meeting on Feb. 16.

“We will read any additional input and take the next steps,” Fuest said, adding that “there’s a chance” the board could vote on the proposed plan during that meeting. 

As for the questions about any potential impact to area water supplies, Hinman said that is still under review by Genesee County Health Department.

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